David Blackburn

From the archives – the Butcher of Belgrade

As Ratko Mladic faces his accusers at the Hague, it’s instructive to revisit the fallout from one of the atrocities he is alleged to have committed. The Srebrenica massacre was both a horrendous tragedy and a horrendous failure of internationalism – a point the Spectator made cautiously as news of the war crime emerged.

No End of a Lesson, The Spectator, 22 July 1995

The tragedy in Bosnia is so harrowing, the United Nations’ failure so all-embracing, the West’s humiliation so total that it is difficult as yet to see beyond them. But for the Bosnians themselves, the worst may now be passed.

Whether the defeated international powers stage some dramatic military feat before their departure is largely irrelevant to those they were sent to protect. For many months the Bosnians have realised that they would have to fight their own battles. Having now written off the eastern enclaves which the UN was pledged to defend, the Bosnian government’s only wish now is to see the arms embargo lifted under conditions which ensure a rapid build-up of arms from the United States (as the Spectator has been arguing since January 1993). In this they will probably be lucky, which opens up some hope for Bosnian families and children.

For the rest of us, the implication of the Bosnian tragedy will continue to reverberate, though with a distinctive timbre for different interests. Bosnia will confirm in the minds of isolationist conservatives in the USA and, increasingly, Britain that foreign military ventures inevitably involve unacceptable risks. It will suggest to the Europeans that Britain is now a country whose forces will not fight, and that Franco-German military co-operation therefore makes more sense. It will convince the Islamic world, which has seen its pleas and threats ignored, as Muslims were exterminated in the heart of Europe, that there is nothing to gain from co-operation with the West and nothing to fear from defying it.

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